The award for operators in the shire areas of the UK, covering all areas outside our major conurbations.
Winner: Transdev Yellow Buses
Following its win in this category in 2009, the ‘brighter bus company’ has maintained its impressive progress of recent years since its sale by its previous local authority owner to Transdev, not least in terms of its growing profit on an increasing turnover.
Transdev Yellow Buses is now a very good operator, an innovative and customer-focussed company finding smart ways to develop and improve its services, and thus grow its market, in the competitive Bournemouth conurbation by listening to and communicating openly with its customers and staff to achieve high quality in all that it does.
Judges were especially impressed by a number of recent marketing initiatives building on its investment in new buses to supplement the previous judicious second-hand purchases, as well as its proactive involvement with the community it serves, its continuing attitude to environmental and safety values, and efforts to encourage top performance out of its staff by such as the prestigious Gold Award to those who deliver consistently excellent service.
Runners Up: Western Greyhound
Despite the ‘move up’ from Independent Operator, Western Greyhound has still shown that it can compete with the best.
Another outstanding entry from this independent Cornish-based company, it has maintained its substantial progress to deliver increased patronage, higher turnover and profit, and ongoing investment in low-floor accessible buses over the last year despite the difficult economic conditions. Now running 117 vehicles, Western Greyhound continues to be innovative in revitalising and operating a quality inter-urban and rural network, tailored to the communities it serves and to visitors to this scenic part of the United Kingdom.
In particular the judges noted the 97% customer satisfaction rate in the recent Passenger Focus surveys (the highest of any bus operator), built on the company’s ongoing close involvement with local authorities and other stakeholders in the communities served.
Stagecoach East operates 280 vehicles on services centred in the Northampton, Bedford, Kettering and Corby areas, though the operation was recently reorganised and split between Stagecoach Midlands and Stagecoach in Cambridgeshire.
The judges noted the impressive increase in passenger numbers, turnover and profit in a difficult year economically for the company’s operating area, as well as the substantial improvement in other key performance indicators like reliability and punctuality, putting Stagecoach East into the top group of operators. The company has a record of identifying areas of potential growth, trialling innovative schemes and strengthening relationships with its local authority partners. The award-winning X5 service is an excellent example. Top class marketing, a stringent approach to customer service and staff relations, along with strict engineering and safety/environmental procedures has led the company to achieve some impressive results over the last year or two.
Having gone through a very difficult couple of years, Reading Buses is again demonstrating an impressive commitment to quality bus operation with strong strong key performance indicators. The past year has been a pivotal one in changing the underlying philosophy of Reading Buses, inspiring an increased commitment to customer service as the very centre of what the company does. The fleet is now 100% low-floor easy access, and strong marketing (like its ‘£1 to Town’ initiative and new ‘simplyReading’ fare zones) on the back of the dedicated colour-coded Premier Routes network has brought an impressive increase in passenger numbers despite the effects of the recession on the Thames Valley area.
The judges were also impressed with the company’s open door policy towards its staff (not least the weekly Staff Bulletin) and the action taken to encourage them to take ownership of how the company operates.
Thamesdown Transport, the Swindon-based local authority-owned company, has seen significant investment in recent years following on from the opening of its award-winning bus depot in 2005. The company’s key performance indicators demonstrate that it operates a top-class service, with very high levels of reliability and punctuality. In the recent Passenger Focus surveys, with 93% the company was the second-best operator for customer satisfaction. It has recently rolled out audio-visual bus stop announcements from which, by the end of 2010, 64% of its passengers will benefit.
The judges were particularly impressed by the company’s relationship with its passengers, including the regular Customer Newsletter and the Customer Charter with its very strict conditions relating to the handling of complaints, its newly-revamped website, the close relationship with its local authority partners and other stakeholders, and its commitment to environmental considerations.
Transdev Burnley & Pendle
Transdev Burnley & Pendle‘s core services link Burnley, Colne and Nelson, with routes to Manchester, Accrington, Clitheroe and Keighley.
On the back of strong marketing (‘Mainline’ and ‘Starship’ networks) and fleet investment, and despite the challenging economic climate, the company has grown its revenue and profit levels significantly, as well as maintaining an impressive reliability record and other key performance indicators.
Staff initiatives including compulsory health checks, a requirement for all drivers to take the Institute of Advanced Motorists’ test, and a commitment to continuous training for its staff particularly impressed the judges. There is also a strong commitment to environmental considerations, health and safety audits, and comprehensive risk assessments.
The Judges' Verdicts
Another absolutely stunning group of entries, with very few points separating the short-listed operators from several of those who missed out. In fact less than 10% separated the scores of the top nine entries! The very top entries were so difficult to separate that the judges agreed there should be Joint Winners, subject obviously to the outcome of mystery travelling.
The quality of what were, a few years ago, the very top operators is now almost standard amongst entrants in this category. Whilst the recession has taken its toll on some of the key performance indicators, the judges feel that this should not detract from the achievements listed which are a real credit to the bus industry and stand it in very good stead for the future.
Very apparent was the increasing number of companies that now understand clearly they are selling destinations and benefits to customers, rather than simple bus rides.
Again most of the leading operators had forged strong partnerships with their local authorities, and judges were impressed by the commitment to health and safety, risk assessment and the environment.
Who could be nominated?
This award is open to bus companies operating service networks wholly or mainly outside the major conurbations. Operators who are not subsidiaries of a Public Limited Company listed on the London Stock Exchange, with fleets of less than 100 vehicles are recommended to enter the Independent Operator of the Year.
… and by whom?
We welcomed nominations from customers, local authorities, user groups or bus operators. Self-nomination was acceptable.
Criteria and Entry Requirements for Bus Operator Awards:
The results were determined on the basis of the quality of the submissions, which need to:
- Show how the operator maintains and improves customer relations. For example how it uses:
- customer satisfaction surveys
- suggestion and complaint handling procedures
- customer newsletters
- State whether it has policies for specific customer groups, for example recognising disability and diversity
- State whether the company resolved any issues by reference to the Bus Appeals Body within the last three years prior to entry. The issues and the outcome need to be described
- Provide evidence of the company’s employee relations policies, including:
- equal opportunities
- employee development programmes.
- Provide statistics on timekeeping and lost mileage
- State any Traffic Commissioners’ action in the three years prior to entry and describe the company’s responses
- Provide information to demonstrate the financial sustainability of their activities. This could come, for example, from the most recent audited accounts for the two years prior to nomination and include:
- Capital investment: amount per £1,000 turnover; changes in fleet age profile
- Commercial performance: % operating profit margin
- Movement in reserves.
- Demonstrate the company’s approach to risk assessment in all its activities including:
- a commentary on Health and Safety issues for the past year, supported by reports on any significant incidents,
- showing how the company assesses the impact of its activities on staff, passengers and the general public and has monitoring and control measures to reduce risk and the level of the residual risks.
- Describe the operator’s approach to environmental matters and social responsibility.
- Submit evidence on matters such as any partnership working, describe how the company responds to the policies of its local transport authority and how it fosters and contributes to the life of the communities it serves.
- Show how the operator contributes to sustaining and expanding the market for public transport in their area, including joint working with local authorities and integration schemes. This should be supported by statistics to confirm patronage and revenue trends, and statistical evidence of modal shift.
Shortlisted entries will be assessed by “mystery travellers” to monitor the standard of service delivery.